Screen sizes have only increased in recent years. But as we hit a ceiling on just how big a smartphone can be, tech companies created an out-of-the-box solution: the foldable phone.
Hoping to give users the convenience of a phone with the visual experience of a tablet, Huawei, Samsung and even Google are developing foldable phones.
Samsung rushed to release their foldable phone first, to not quite glowing reviews. Although this launch failed, it doesnâ€™t mean foldable phones are toast. If anything, it signals big changes coming down the pipeline for mobile UI and UX.
The Rise And Fall Of Foldable Tech
Originally with an anticipated April 2019 release, Samsung had to delay releasing their phone because of hardware and software issues. Huaweiâ€™s Mate X phone suffered a similar fate. Both companies have pushed off the product launch to address quality problems.
Samsungâ€™s phone, the Galaxy Fold, folded in half, with a large screen inside a clamshell-style exterior. When closed, the Galaxy Fold displays a miniature screen for quick tasks.Â The Huawei Mate X, on the other hand, designed its screen to be on the outside of the phone, which lends itself to a smoother transition between phone and tablet but leaves the fragile screen exposed to the elements.
Reviewers for Samsung’s phones found that the screens cracked easily. Those whose screens didnâ€™t break noted that the phones had software glitchesÂ and interface problems.
In spite of Samsung and Huaweiâ€™s failures, Google is jumping into the fray. Itâ€™s predicted that the next Pixel phone will be foldable.
Preparing UI/UX For Folding Phones
Although foldable phones flopped initially, that doesnâ€™t mean we can write them off. As someone who has led product development across both iOS and Android devices, I predict that UI/UX will have to adjust for foldables. Now is the time to update your practices so your site or app runs smoothly when foldables hit the market. You can start this process by focusing on the following elements:
1. Device Usability
Once folded, these phones can be a little bulky. That means the interface has to be incredibly simple and easy for users to navigate with just one hand. It may also mean larger buttons are in order.
One challenge with a foldable UI/UX is the switching between phone and tablet mode. Experts predict that users will use foldables often for their core “ultraportable candy-bar mode” or phone mode â€” then occasionally for their tablet mode for “viewing content and working.” Because of this, both phone and tablet mode have to offer a great experience. Your app or website has to roll with the punches and adjust formatting in the blink of an eye; this means responsive design will continue to be important in the age of foldables.
Foldables also come with a big problem: Thereâ€™s a crease in the center of the phone. While Huawei, Samsung and Google work to remedy this, thereâ€™s no way around it for now. Try to avoid putting important buttons in the middle of the screen; users may have a hard time clicking it.
2. App And Video
Foldable phones will not only have a phone mode and a tablet mode, but they will also come with the ability to display multiple apps at once on one screen. This means apps have to be able to switch between different sizes and resolutions without skipping a beat. The experience has to continue seamlessly as users switch between modes. Look at your app to see if its formatting looks good no matter where it displays. This may mean you need to opt for a simpler design so elements scale correctly.
Another concern is aspect ratio and video size. While the tablet mode is designed for video viewing, videos donâ€™t always display correctly on these screen sizes.Â Certain aspect ratios donâ€™t perform well on foldables, which means marketers and content creators may need to rethink how they format content for foldable viewers.
The big question everyone is asking is, â€œAre foldables going to make it in the market? Are users actually going to embrace this tech?â€
I donâ€™t have a crystal ball, but I do know that developers should proceed as if foldables are the next big thing. The value of smooth UI/UX to early adopters is worth investing in the upgrades now. And best of all, these changes donâ€™t require a significant investment on your part.
Successful foldable UI/UX will adapt to the behaviors and needs of the user, not the other way around. If youâ€™re worried about how users will navigate your content on these devices, donâ€™t be afraid to conduct user testing to iron out the bugs.
The Bottom Line
Itâ€™s easy to get caught up in the novelty of foldable phones. But as the Samsung launch showed us, this technology needs improvement before it satisfies users. That doesnâ€™t mean developers get a pass, though.
Address your UI/UX for foldables today. When they hit the market, youâ€™ll be able to focus on user satisfaction instead of scrambling to adjust your content. Bring your UI/UX into the fold by embracing the next wave of device innovation, and your users will thank you.